Nedra Pickler and Eric Tucker, Yahoo! News, March 2, 2015
President Barack Obama said Monday the deaths of unarmed black men in Missouri and New York show that law enforcement needs to change practices to build trust in minority communities, as a White House task force called for independent investigations when police use deadly force.
The president said last year’s deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York City exposed “deep rooted frustration in many communities of color around the need for fair and just law enforcement.” He said a policing task force that he appointed found it’s important for law enforcement to improve training, data collection and cooperation with the communities they cover.
The task force made 63 recommendations after holding seven public hearings across the country that included testimony from more than 100 people. The panel also met with leaders of groups advocating for the rights of blacks, Hispanics, Asians, veterans, gays, the disabled and others.
Obama said the task force found the need for more police training to reduce bias and help officers deal with stressful situations. He recognized a particularly controversial recommendation would be the need for independent investigations in fatal police shootings.
Bill Johnson, the executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations, said an outside investigation of a police-involved shooting may make sense in limited circumstances when a police department has few resources. But in the vast majority of cases, he said, it is unnecessary and perhaps even counterproductive.
“I think it helps to drive a wedge between a local police department and the community it serves–which is exactly contrary to what the intent of this police task force was supposed to be,” said Johnson, whose organization is an umbrella group of police unions. “I think it sends a message that your local police can’t be trusted.”
The task force echoed calls from officials including Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director James Comey for more complete record-keeping about the numbers of police-involved shootings across the country. Such data is currently reported by local law enforcement on a voluntary basis, and there is no central or reliable repository for those statistics.